Jay-Z Hits SxSW; A 340-ton Rock Star; The Homeless, Robots & Wifi; A Video Game for the 99%

This week’s theme music: Tweet your favorite Jay-Z song (#title) with #JayZSyncShow and maybe he’ll play it live from SxSW later today (3/12/12). Details here

What’s going on at SxSW?
Y&R is teaming up with several of our sister agencies to provide on-the-ground commentary of all the happenings in Austin. Check out the lowdown on the panels, parties, food and general zeitgeist here.

“The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed” – William Gibson
As marketers, we usually focus on the content that is available on the Internet. This week I was intrigued by two clever approaches to providing access to the Internet.  The first, Homeless Hotspots, is in beta test at SxSW. Created by BBH Labs, Homeless Hotspots utilizes homeless people as mobile wifi spots.  As SxSWers roll through town and find themselves in areas with weak signals, they’ll find Homeless Hotspot representatives from which they can get high speed access. It’s an intriguing notion and novel solution to two problems.

If that solution leverages a low-fi technology (people), then Electronic Countermeasures is something straight from a sci-fi novel – a swam of mini, flying robots create a wifi network. The man behind the idea, Liam Young, descibes it like this: “These drones would fly off and hover above the city, and create ad hoc connections and networks in a new form of nomadic territorial infrastructure,” he says, “a flock of interactive autonomous drones that form their own place specific, temporary, local, Wi-Fi community–a pirate Internet.”

Intriguing and wildly dissimilar approaches to solving a similar problem.

Gender Roles – Shaping Language, Re-inforcing stereotypes
As we come off a week where gender roles and women’s sexuality drove the political conversations, two items caught my eye. First was this care label on a pair of men’s pants. While details of the brand behind this aresketchy, it raises some interesting cultural questions. Is the label meant completely in jest, a thumbing of the nose at the politiclal correctness of this time?  Is it meant as a declaration to men to reclaim the “traditional” gender roles? Is it actually a stab at men, famous for not reading instructions? Is it merely a somewhat obvious grab to garner publicity, any publicity, for the brand? Madhouse, the UK shop stocking the pants has been back-pedaling, so that seems unlikely.  And to what degree should we be upset by this? In my house I probably do about 70 of the laundy – wash, dry, fold & put away. Should I be offended by this? If so, because they are in essence demeaning my wife, or because they are demeaning me? It’s interesting to think how else they (or another brand) could use this space.

Elsewhere, linguistics researchers are looking into the role that women play in shaping our language.  Carmen Fought of Pitzer College, in speaking to the New York Times stated: “If women do something like uptalk or vocal fry, it’s immediately interpreted as insecure, emotional or even stupid. The truth is this: young women take linguistic features and use them as power tools for building relationships.”  

A Social Game from a magazine? A TV show from a car company?
For 19 years, SELF magazine has hosted an event called Self Workout in the Park in New York City. This year, they’ve added a Social Gaming element to the program. According to The New York Times, “The Self game, in addition to bearing the Self brand, will be sponsored by several marketers, including BlackBerry, 7 for All Mankind jeans and Skype, which will be integrated into the social game play. Plans call for the game to be playable on mobile devices and computers.”

For the past several years Ford has done a great job of driving marketing innovation in the social space. That continues with their latest project, Escape Routes. According toMashable, the show will premiere on NBC and mun2 on March 31. The show, which will run for six episodes, features a cast of six teams of two who will vie in a road trip competition. This is a great example of a brand embracing not just Social TV, but Intermedia. We’re moving towards an entertainment landscape that has transitioned from watching a show, to talking about a show online to engaging with a show online – in real-time. As this trend continues, ‘event-style’ shows will keep viewing watching, thus forcing advertisers to up their game as viewers shift between big and small screens. The :30 second will need to be more engaging, not with cute animals and talking babies, but with additional content relevant to the program.


340-ton boulders and a video game for the 99%

Guns N’ Roses, The Doors, Red Hot Chili Peppers. Los Angeles has had its share of rock stars. But none bigger than the 340-ton boulder that made its way to the L.A. County Museum of Art last week. As the LA Timesreported, the rock, part of an art installation, has become a sensation in a town know more for superficiality than being down to Earth (or being part of the Earth), the rock’s 105-mile journey has generated carnival-like parties, parade-style onlookers and well-wishers and of course, the true imprimatur of 21-century celebrity, a Twitter account. This is one of those perfect examples of things that you simply can’t manufacture. Can you imagine an agency going to the museum to pitch this? Or how completely lame it would have been if they had created an official party for the rock? No, something like this just happens, or it doesn’t, and that’s the world we live in right now. The question for marketers becomes – how, if we cannot create these things, do we leverage them?

Equally organic is the video game Keep Me Occupied. An effort from the people behind the Occupy Oakland movement. The game resides in a moving console called the Oak-U-Tron. According to the the game’s programmer, Anna Anthropy (via Wired.com), “The game [marries] the idea of the social movement where everyone who’s playing contributes to the overall success of everyone,” says Anthropy. “Someone who’s maybe not super good at videogames might only get to an early switch, but they’ll still stay behind and hold that switch and help all future players to still be contributing something that’s significant.” Check out the gameplay here, and see the game in action here.

Insight on the creative process from Ridley Scott
Last week we saw the clever trailer for Prometheus, the latest epic from visionary director Ridley Scott. This week I discovered this gem, a video entitled Blade Runner Convention Reel. It’s a look behind-the-scenes at the creation of the world of the depicted in the film. It’s a deep meditation on storytelling, and more importantly illustrates the difference in approaches between a film like Blade Runner – a film that was added to the National Film Registry – and something like this week’s ‘blockbuster,’ John Carter.  


Empire Avenue: Four Partnership Ideas

Every day I receive emails telling me that someone is “following me” or wants to “be my friend” on some social network. I don’t even remember signing up for half of them, and the reason is they didn’t do anything to really capture my attention or provide value. Some were initially intriguing, but never evolved into something more interesting.  That got me to thinking about Empire Avenue and what it could do to remain fresh.

I think the platform is pretty robust, but I’m betting a lot of people who are trying it out now will find another way to spend their time unless Empire Avenue continues to provide innovative experiences. To that end, here are four ways EA can extend the brand experience, both online and beyond:


1. Mashable

As the authority on all things social, a tie-in with Mashable would make a lot of sense. This might be something as small as a Google Chrome extension that allows you to roll over names of people or brands mentioned in Mashable stories and seeing their share price; or something larger like including EA share prices in the Topics To Follow information at the end articles.  What would be the benefit to Mashable? Perhaps they would get a ‘commission’ of eaves to their Empire Avenue account for all transactions that come from a Mashable-tagged click-through.


I would have the greatest share price in the history of the world.

2. Celebrity Apprentice

While a tie-in with Mashable makes sense and would probably be easy enough to do, product integration with a prime time television show would be ambitious. But a show like Celebrity Apprentice seems perfect. First, Donald Trump keeps score by measuring a person’s net worth, I bet he’d love the very idea of Empire Avenue.  For the show, at the beginning of the season, every participant would get a new account.  The Empire Avenue community would then buy and sell shares as normal, and share price would be figured into the decision on who gets fired.  I can just see The Donald telling a contestant: “You were a terrible project manager, none of your teammates trust you and your share price is in the tank. You’re fired!”


3. SXSW Interactive

This conference is the premier destination for people and brands involved in social media. Social tools like Twitter and Foursquare exploded onto the scene at SXSW and every year people place bets to see which hot new start up is going to garner buzz. Sounds like a perfect place for EA.  I’d love to see a Empire Avenue SXSW Index on a huge, digital, real-time board at the Austin Convention Center. Brands and speakers participating in the conference would be listed and the attendees, plus those following from home would get a true sense of who is really making an impact and generating buzz.


4. Kickstarter

Kickstarter is a great way for creative types to fund their artistic projects. But wouldn’t it be great if you could get an understanding of the social capital your funders had? That five dollar investment was nice, but knowing that the person had a Empire Avenue share price of 89.80 could be even more valuable. By knowing the share price of all their investors, the project creator might reach out to certain individuals for helping spreading the word via Social Media. In fact, real world value in the form of project benefits could be given based on an investor’s social media support of a project. Of course project creators could also list their idea on Empire Avenue as a way to build increased awareness as well.



SXSW Panel Post-Mortem – – All Grown-up: Brand Mascots in the Digital Age

Not Grrreat for Social Media

I want to revisit a panel I attended on Friday on Brand Mascots in the Digital Age. (Full disclosure – I had to leave early so I’ll only discuss the part I was there for).  The presentation was hosted by Derek Fridman, Creative Director at Sapient Nitro and Emily (Reid) Fridman, Account Director at IQ. The format was terrific, taking a more conversational approach that allowed (required actually) participation from the crowd.  It soon became clear to me that the direction Derek and Emily were taking didn’t quite ring true to me. Here’s the copy from the panel announcement:

Why doesn’t Toucan Sam Twitter? Where’s the Pillsburry Doughboy to poke on my mobile phone? And which one of the Snuggle Bear Facebook pages is real? Join us for a pow-wow on how you take your brand characters out of the 1980’s TV commercials and place them in the social and interactive world.[bold added by me] There’s no napping when your characters are in the digital age. We’ll talk about preparing your characters personality, environment and lingo for the demands of the “always-on” consumer. And what about the character’s of tomorrow? We’ll look at concept to completion, how a brand creates and introduces a new cast of characters ready for today’s digital stage and beyond. Similar to my grandmother who doesn’t understand these “crazy kids and their internets”, mascots need to take up residence in the digital world, make some friends, and tweet about their day.

Why doesn’t Toucan Sam Twitter? Because he’s a fictional corporate mascot. I found myself really struggling with where the conversation was going. As reference points they also mentioned a variety of cereal brand characters such as Snap, Krackle and Pop, The Trix Rabbit and Tony the Tiger.  Let’s take a deeper look at that last one:

Tony the Tiger was created in the early 1950s. He is one of the iconic characters of advertising and his “They’re Grrrrrreat!” catchphrase is known to just about everyone.  But that, by and large is the extent of the character. Tony the Tiger is a one dimensional character designed to do one thing and one thing only: sell sugary cereal to kids.  Tony the Tiger is part of American culture thanks to the advertising machine that created him. What made him so successful, repetition of a single phrase over and over again is exactly what makes him a horrible candidate for social media.

Let’s say we gave Tony a twitter account. What could he possibly say about the product other than, “They’re Grrrrrreat!” and still be in character? If he did say something else it would be fake. You’d have a fake character saying something fake. And if he did say something else, why would I care? He’s a cartoon tiger, what value is he adding to the experience? He can’t be talking to young children, because of rules against marketing to children. Is he talking to adults? I guess, but that seems to go against the overall trend. In speaking about this with Saneel Radia of BBH Labs he spoke of how Axe works on twitter. You know exactly which real person is handling their account. It’s not a stick of deodorant, or a made up character, it’s a human.  On another panel I heard Shiv Singh speak about how Pepsi handles their twitter accounts. Look at Pepsi Max, you know exactly who you are talking to, a real person.

But those aren’t beloved mascot characters. Ok, you know who is? How about Ronald McDonald? Can’t get more iconic than that. This weekend I spoke with Rick Wion, Director of Social Media for

Billie Jean, I'm so tweeting this later.

McDonald’s and asked him. He explained to me the very specific parameters within which Ronald McDonald, the character, can work. Social Media was not one of those channels.  Want more proof having your mascot tweet is a bad idea? During the Brand Mascots in the Digital Age event an audience member mentioned that he worked at Sea World and they had Shamu tweeting. When asked how it was going he admitted that the account was on hiatus since the real life Shamu had been involved in an incident that killed a trainer. That is an absolute tragedy and renders a discussion about tweeting mascots as insignificant. But from a business perspective, think about how different it would have been if, instead of a having a twitter account for a whale, it was an account for the actual person who was tweeting on behalf of the whale. How that person could have helped express the grief that everyone at Sea World was no doubt feeling. How they could have openly and honestly discussed the situation and helped educate people as to what happened. Note, Sea World does have another account and people were directed to it, but it still left them with a dormant account.

Also worth noting, apparently Kellogg’s doesn’t seem to think putting Tony the Tiger on twitter is a good idea since they haven’t done so.

I do think branded characters can work under certain circumstances. The Geico Caveman would seem to work because he is very much of this era and the whole joke is that he is this sort of hipster. And in fact he does have a twitter account. But take a look at the number of followers. Less than 1,000. What about the Geico Gecko? Also a hip, modern character. About 2,500 followers. Quite frankly I was surprised, even though this seems to prove my point. The actual Geico insurance account has more than either mascot because it actually provides a value to customers.

Putting mascots on Twitter sounds like a fun, clever way to engage consumers, and I’m sure it’s possible to ring up some nice follower counts using this tactic.  But ultimately people will tire of this because social media is, well, social. I don’t want to talk to a cartoon character, I don’t want to talk to logo and I don’t want to talk to some faceless corporation. Give me a person I can have a relationship with.

SXSW Day 2 – Brands and Content

Visual Notes from the Brave New World panel

Day 2 at SXSW and the focus was on brands and content. This is really one of the biggest things happening right now in marketing and two panels I attended took the issues head on.  First up was Brave New World: Debating Brands’ Role as Publishers. This was a lively panel helped by a strong moderator.  The panelists included Gary Kim of Carrier Evolution, Pawan Deshpande, CEO of Curata, Lora Kolodny of Techcrunch and Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute. Joe is a friend of mine, and I’m a big believer in content marketing, so you know where my biases lie.  Lora, as a good journalist does, brought up some very valid points as to why she is concerned with the growth of content marketing.  Brands aren’t always clear on disclosure and the quality of the content they are publishing is often inferior.  It adds up to a product that doesn’t add true value for people, which is the real aim of content marketing.

Pulizzi, while obviously being a proponent of content marketing, was open-minded enough to recognize that quality standards are still too low in many cases and that their is a need for guidelines that has yet to be fulfilled. But he’s right in saying that the sheer volume of branded content currently being published makes the notion of turning back moot. He also was quick to point out that content marketing isn’t designed to replace all other forms, but rather to compliment other tactics in the marketing mix.

Deshpande’s company helps brands curate existing content so that they (the brands) can act as a credible news source within their industry by allowing them to easily publish this aggregated news. While I see the value in that, I think it’s important to understand that aggregation is a far cry for being a credible thought-leader. That only comes from publishing original content.

The second panel of the day was entitled, Brand Journalism: The Rise of Non-Fiction Advertising. Easily the most enjoyable panel I’ve attended as moderator Bob Garfield was excellent. Panelists included Shiv Singh from PepsiCo, Brian Clark from GMD Studios,  David Eastman of JWT and Kyle Monson, who holds the title of Editor at JWT. Again, a very lively panel with all in agreement for the need for brands to create content. But the emphasis was on creating content of real value, and that often means content that isn’t directly related to the product. Singh talked about the Pepsi Refresh Project which has little to do with fizzy sugar water, but a lot to do with the things that are important to people who drink fizzy sugar water. Monson had a great line, relating an anecdote about a journalist telling him that agencies were trying to make content more like ads, and Monson responded that no, they were trying to make ads more like content. Another theme was getting brands to create content that sounded like it came from a real human, not a brand or an agency.

I attended another panel on brand mascots in the digital age, but I’m going to save my thoughts on that for next week when I have a little more time. Finally, a great evening at the Revision3 Diggnation Party.  I’m a big Mike Relm fan and he didn’t disappoint. If you don’t know Mike Relm, check this out:


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You really have to see him live to appreciate what he does. He takes recombinance to a new and different level.

I’m Headed To SXSW

SXSW, here we come.

Well, it’s finally here. Today I fly off to Austin for SXSW. I’ve already told you about the people I want to meet, the panels I want to attend and the parties I want to hit. But I also want to share my experience with those of you who won’t be in Austin over the next couple of days, so here’s what I’m planning on doing:

My colleague Tracy Shea and I will be at SXSW Friday through Tuesday. Over that period of time will meet more people and learn more than we can possibly share with you. But that doesn’t mean we won’t try.  You can follow us on Twitter:

Rick Liebling: @Rick_Now

Tracy Shea: @Broadbandito

You can also follow me on Foursquare and Gowalla.

In addition I’m looking to post a Top 10 list for each day that will highlight the people, panels, products and platforms that caught my eye. We’ll probably have some other tricks up our sleeves as well. I hope you’ll connect with us on Twitter or leave a comment on the blog if you read something that catches your interest.

SXSW 2011: The Nine Panels I Most Want To Attend At SXSW

There are a ridiculous number of panels to check out at SXSW Interactive. If you did no networking and no partying (ha!) you still couldn’t attend all the panels. You couldn’t even attend just all the panels you really want to attend. You’ve got to make some choices. Here’s my list of the panels I’m determined to go to:



Gamechanging: Turning Your App Into A Cooperative Game

2:00 pm, Austin Convention Center, Room 12AB

I’m becoming obsessed with game mechanics or social rewards as a way of engaging people. Can’t wait to read Aaron Dignan’s Game Frame. So this panel, hosted by Buster Benson of Health Month and Thor Muller of Get Satisfaction should be very interesting.



Content Rules book reading

11:30am, Austin Convention Center, Ballroom G

C.C. Chapman and Ann Handley read from and discuss their recent book. C.C. and Ann are two of the more awesome Social Media people around so this should be a great event, and a lot of my Twitter friends will be there to support them as well, so it should be a lot of fun.


Brand Journalism: The rise of non-fiction advertising

12:30pm, Austin Convention Center, Ballroom F

Ah, content marketing, one of my favorite subjects.  Great panel too, with Bob Garfield, Shiv Singh from Pepsi and others talking about the need for brands to realizing they are publishers regardless of what business they are in.



Measuring Social Media: Let’s Get Serious

9:30am, Hyatt, TX Ballroom 2-4

Let’s be honest, there are still more questions than answers in this area, and yet it is a critical issue for Social Media marketers. Jason Falls leads this panel.


Better Crowdsourcing: Lessons learned from the3six5 Project

12:30pm, Austin Convention Center, Ballroom C

Absolute must attend. Features Len Kendall, one of the people I most want to meet, as well as John Winsor of Victors & Spoils, who was kind enough to write the forward for my crowdsourcing ebook, Everyone Is Illuminated. Plus, I participated in the3six5 project last year. Here’s my entry.


Road Rules for Mentorship: What’s Appropriate (& What’s Not)

3:30pm, Austin Convention Center, Room 5ABC

Great topic, and two panelists who are totally great in their own ways, Sydney Owen and Aaron Strout. Very different from most of the other panels I’m attending so this should be a great change of pace.



How Blogs With Balls Are Saving Sports Media

9:30am, Hyatt, Hill Country AB

I’m a sports guy at heart, so this is right up my alley. And check out this awesome list of panelists: Dan Shanoff, Darren Rovell, Jemele Hill and Spencer Hall.


Transmedia: What’s The Magical Formula For Successful Design?

11:15am, Austin Convention Center, Ballroom E

Like most people, I was turned on to Transmedia via Henry Jenkins. In today’s connected, convergent world, the foundation of a successful franchise in Transmedia.  Anthea Foyer presents.



Why PR’s Future May Not Look Like PR

12:30pm, Hyatt, Hill Country CD

I’ve been involved with PR for more than a decade now, but I’m a big believer that agencies of all stripes need to re-evaluate their core offerings. David Armano and Richard Brewer-Hay host this one.